pink tutus as a cure for overwhelm?

“How do I stop defining myself as overwhelmed?”

Melissa asked this question five minutes ago in slack (one of an absurd number of platforms our team uses to communicate), but it’s been in my head for at least five years. My two basic moods are overwhelmed and asleep. Lindsey chimed in “fragmented” which is a piece (ha!) of overwhelm that fits pretty well for me, too.

We’re at a barbecue in my parents’ back yard, the first such gathering after quarantine. My dad is manning the grill, my mom, sister, and brother-in-law are sitting in camp chairs around the firepit. Marshmallows will be roasted (and incinerated) later, but right now, all the food is out, we’re just waiting for meat so we can pray and eat. It’s a gorgeous day—75 and clear. Andrew is lounging in the hammock strung between two birch trees with leaves all the way out. The “big” girls (my two and a cousin, ages seven through nine) are whispering to each other on the ground near the fire while Brian “mows the lawn” with a little Playskool mower that probably used to blow bubbles. The littlest two? They’re swinging. Petra (two) is in the baby swing chattering happily while Lilly (giant by comparison) oscillates on the red plastic “big girl” swing beside her.

“Push me!”

This phrase from two little girls on one primary-colored plastic playset (again, Playskool) is on constant repeat. Petra’s light blue eyes shine. They’d both prefer to have Grandpa push them, but, as mentioned, he’s at the grill, so I have to suffice. I push them and pretend to be offended when I “accidentally” stand too close and they kick me and they giggle. I’m not as good at swings as my dad, mostly owing to the enormous camera I have slung across my body. I push them (and turn around to let them kick my backside) just frequently enough to keep them happy, but otherwise, I am intent on capturing their joy.

Lilly Mae’s eyes are generating their own light, even though they’re mostly closed because her smile is so big. The pink and purple swimsuit (with a tutu!) is clearly too big for her, thus hanging off her shoulders and her butt. She squeals in delight constantly, throwing her head back so she spends most of her swinging upside-down.

Even though I was working hard to get settings and focus right (focus is not easy when they’re swinging), I was not overwhelmed then.

I’m on the hunt right now for other moments like this, when I don’t feel overwhelmed, looking for common threads. For now, Lilly may have to live in her swimsuit.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Snapshot”.

on gardening (and motherhood)

I’m part of Exhale, a creative community for mothers of faith. They’re doing a creativity challenge this week, and today was “Write 20 minutes.” So here are twenty minutes of my thoughts:

I’m sitting on the edge of a planter in my “office” (the parking lot of the library). I can smell the honey scent of alyssum, planted every ten inches around the bed like little guards. Those and the sunflowers are the only ones I can identify. There are some tall burgundy ones with cream-tipped petals standing head and shoulders and probably knees above the rest. I assume the others around them will catch up before long, but for now, they’re almost comically tall .

I am, if it is not manifestly clear already, not a gardener. I have killed all manner of plants—I kept African violets alive for a while—months, even— but that’s my record. I tried to grow zucchini one year. I got one plant and it produced one mutant spherical zucchini. When I mentioned this to my friend Carla over lunch at Wendy’s, she explained that I needed to have two zucchini plants at least. That makes sense. Pollination and stuff. “Sometimes you have to pollinate them yourself, too,” she told me. I looked quizzically at her and learned that plant reproduction is much more similar to mammalian reproduction than I imagined. (And that, my friends, is the story of the time I learned about zucchini sex at lunch hour over a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger and four-piece nugget with honey mustard.) I killed a cactus once. Every time I tell someone this, they’re like, “Ooooooh. You musta overwatered it.” But no. I’m quite sure I didn’t do that. I think I actually let the thing die from lack of water because I was so afraid of overwatering it. “Don’t overwater it!” This was the refrain. So I did not. It died anyhow. (Apparently you shouldn’t UNDERwater them, either.)

I think next summer is my summer. I’m in a Marco Polo chat with friends that’s been about 50% devoted to our various gardens all spring, and I think they might be able to hold my hand through the process next year. I’ve already told Andrew I’d like some raised beds. Will I like it? I have no idea. To be quite honest, gardening seems like it’s going to feel like a lot of slow work for minimal production. Not unlike parenting, I guess, but, as I’ve mentioned, I actually kind of hate mothering. I love my kids (as I am certain I will love the seedlings and sprouts and flowers) but the daily work of it just wears on me. It’s a lot of work turning a baby into a reasonable adult, and I’m not at all sure we’re going to reach that result.

I wonder if gardening is going to be another thing I commit to, like pieces of, but dislike in general. I wonder if I’m going to fail at it again. (At least I understand zucchini sex?) I am hoping there’s a difference. Back when I was 25 and growing a single mutant squash (named Lucky) while others in town were producing so much that the Food Bank in Fairbanks put out an APB: “PLEASE NO MORE ZUCCHINI,” it seemed simple enough. Dirt. Plants. Water. Sun. I didn’t even consider asking for help. Actually, I approached motherhood similarly. I knew how to child care. No problem. “Now I just gotta get me one a’ them babies, and I’m set. Diapers. Milk. Car seat. The end.”

Come to find out, community is not a peripheral part of either. I absolutely cannot do parenting without people. I go from hating motherhood to also disliking my children so fast when I don’t have other moms to tug me along. I can’t garden without community, either. (Whether or not I can garden WITH community remains to be seen. Worth a shot.)

prayer of petition and lament for white people during racial unrest

Lord God, we see the pain around us—
the rage rightly boiling over,
from and on behalf of the oppressed.
We confess our participation within this system,
our willful ignorance of suffering and injustice,
our indifference to the pain we see that does not affect us,
the reticence to see the ways in which we are complicit.

Father, we lament the centuries of injustice.
We weep for the ways in which those
who look like us have justified all of it,
from slavery to Jim Crow to redlining,
gerrymandering, mass incarceration,
and countless other offenses.
Our hearts break for the ways
we have blamed the people we have wronged—
the ways we still blame black and brown bodies
for pain we inflict on them—
upon those You have created in Your image.

Spirit, teach us to listen.
Guide us to voices with experiences
different from our own.
Grant us a divine ability to hear
without giving in to defensiveness.
Help us speak when we need to speak in our circles
to confront insidious bias,
but help us do so with grace and love
so we might be allowed to do it for a long time.
Help us be silent when our voices
are unnecessary or distracting.
May we amplify voices that need to be heard.
Keep us from centering ourselves,
either focusing on our discomfort
or positioning ourselves as white saviors.

Search us, O God. Know our hearts.
Gently but persistently address the sin You find lurking.

Within ourselves, help us maintain
a posture of humility and compassion,
learning and serving in the ways available to us.

Within our families, show us how to teach
our children not to see Blackness as a threat
and not to weaponize race against others.

Within our communities, help us to challenge
each other’s biases and push each other to do the work.

Within our cities, states, and nation,
let us work and vote for change
in the systems that have caused so much pain.

Christ, teach us to follow Your example:
caring for those in our spheres of influence,
challenging assumptions,
fighting those who abuse power in Your name.
Give us wisdom to know when to do each of those.
Let us do always and only what the Father tells us to do,
always keeping grace and truth together.
And when public incidents of racism
temporarily fade from the public eye,
keep truth and grace in our hearts still.


a look back at May

The last couple months, I’ve been following Emily Freeman’s prompts to look back over the one that just ended. I managed to delete that email this time, so I’m making it up.

something I learned

May was rough. Especially the last little bit. I was asked why I follow the news so closely when it stresses me out so bad. It’s a valid question: I could do with less and my stress level would probably be lower. But I learned the news gives me sufficient context to know 1. There is more to the story than just this story and 2. I know very little outside my own lived experience.

It’s nice to have an answer to the question.

something I’m bringing into June

Related: I’m making a concerted effort to sit down and shut up and listen to people with different experiences than I do. So I have a ton of books and my instagram feed is much more diverse than it was. My TBR stack now has books by Ta Nehisi Coates (Water Dancer) and Coleson Whitehead (Underground Railroad) and Jemar Tisby (The Color of Compromise). This will probably work its way out in words—I imagine some of my work to do is talking about it more with white friends. For now, I need to read. And, for this moment, I’m not linking Amazon or even Bookshop for the titles, but instead recommend ordering from one of these stores. It feels insufficient. But its a start.

Also, I’m praying this prayer repeatedly. And also this one.

funny stuff heard from a kid

Lilly’s personality somehow keeps growing. (It was never small.) Lately she’s been saying, with great authority, “Watch and learn.” Generally there is no context to be found, it’s just thrown about randomly. Cracks me up.

spring in Alaska: a photo essay

Spring hits Alaska all at once and I love it. This year, I decided document it for a few days:

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Friday, May 8, 2020

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Monday, May 11, 2020

This is five days of the same leaves on the same couple of backyard trees. I think I’ll make a point of doing this again.

The beautiful spring came, and when nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.

Harriet Ann Jacobs

Katherine turns eight

Hey, K.

You are spectacular. I really love seeing you grow. This morning, you and I went for a run. (You were on rollerblades.) We had gotten about a mile and a half into our 2.5 mile loop and you started snagging dandelions. I’d run, you’d stop in a glorious yellow patch for a few of the biggest and best ones. I’d look back, you would be hustling to catch back up with your little bouquet in hand.

“Sorry, mama. I just really love dandelions.”

You do not have to apologize for being awesome.

I hadn’t given you any instruction not to pause. We weren’t in a particular hurry. You hadn’t done a thing wrong—you were just being Katherine. I know you love dandelions. Remember your seventh birthday? I love it. I like that you’re mindful of others, wanting to make sure you don’t inconvenience those around you, but please, Darling. Don’t apologize for being your own lovely, amazing self.

The other day, right after you’d shopped all dang morning, spending every cent you had on presents to give to your siblings on your birthday, you and Jenna had a thing. Your sister, amazing as she is, has her own insecurities (just like you do) and sometimes it causes her to do some things that are super hurtful to you. Basically, she offloads her discomfort and insecurity onto you because she can.

I’ve long described you to people as having “a heart every bit as big as your personality.” You feel things big, you react to things big, and you love really big. But Friday, instead of losing your mind over Jenna doing this thing, again, that triggers all your insecurities, you used your words. With gentleness and honesty and a TON of courage, you came to her and calmly told her, “Jenna, when you do this, it really hurts my feelings.” She got defensive and didn’t react well and you spent… 15 minutes? 2o? pressing into the suck. She deflected and you refused to defend. When it seemed like she had a genuine grievance against you (even if she was transparently changing the subject), You would seek to understand because you truly want to avoid doing things that are hurtful to her. Eventually, your openness and kindness paid off. I didn’t catch the end of the conversation, but by the time you finished, she was in a good mood again and you played happily together for much of the remainder of the afternoon.

I want to be like you when I grow up.

There are so many adults who don’t have the skill you just demonstrated: blending grace and truth and love and courage and vulnerability and humility all together. There was no guarantee your sister would respond well—you told me yesterday you’re still nervous it’s going to backfire—but you acted from your own integrity. I don’t believe I’ve ever been prouder of you. When your dad and I get into touchy conversations, my aim is always to carry myself just like you did, and I don’t usually succeed, even with years and years of experience that he loves me, believes the best of me, and is generally for me. You don’t even have that level of security with your sister and still did the brave thing.

I don’t expect you to pull this off flawlessly from this day forward, and I want you to have grace for screwing it up, too. But I also want you to tuck this in your back pocket—you are capable.

Katherine, watching you grow up has so far been astounding in all the ways. I love seeing the ways you reflect the character and glory of the God who made you in His image. You’re growing up just right. Better than that, in fact. You’re growing up awesome in ways I don’t want you to apologize for. Your sensitivity mixed with your abundance, your huge feelings crossed with your enormous heart. You still have plenty to learn, but there’s time. My heart is full as I see you becoming. I’m excited to see how you navigate eight.

gentle deconstruction

I have foundation issues. Not the kind ThirdLove or Spanx can help me with; I mean like actual cement foundation. Our house is built on permafrost. (Non-Alaskans: permafrost is where the ground is frozen year-round below the surface unless you build something on top of it, in which case it melts and gets unstable. This, as you might imagine, is suboptimal for structures.) Anyhow. Part of our house sits on bottle jacks which get adjusted every so often when a corner of the house sinks enough to notice, and the drywall cracks both from the sinking and the lifting back up. But the part over the garage is on a foundation which, if we ever sell this house, will need to be chipped out and replaced. (With what? I don’t know. Andrew does. We probably need to dig it out and put some insulation down below it so the house doesn’t melt the permafrost? Something.) In order for a bank to loan to a buyer, this will be required. Our neighbors did it several years ago and it was… loud. Looked laborious. I hope this is something we can hire out when the time comes because I sure don’t want to do it.

“Deconstruction” has been getting a lot of play in Christian circles for a while. In mine, it’s a scary thing: people who used to be believers question everything they believed in and now they believe in nothing. They’re no longer Christians, which doesn’t fit with the way I read the Bible. (“…no one can snatch them out of my hand” and all.) Or maybe they never were, or they’re no longer identifying as believers (don’t get this set started on the way people “identify”), or worse, they do identify as Christian, but they’re heretics. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Bound to lead true believers astray, except, again, what does that mean, precisely?

I am deconstructing. It’s not in the overt “I used to believe all of this, but it’s all garbage and I don’t anymore” kind, or even in the “I used to hold these particular outdated beliefs but now I believe something more enlightened and progressive” type. It’s gentler than that. I love my church. (Even when it makes me the kind of crazy that typically, inexplicably, gets described as excrement of small flying mammals.) I certainly love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I have absolute trust in the goodness of God. I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.

But human understanding of the Father, Son, Spirit, and Scripture? That gets some pretty serious side-eye.

I question things like power structures and politics. Remind me again how women are to use their gifts and how they aren’t and why? How does the Holy Spirit interact with people? Maybe more importantly, why are we so eager to make pronouncements about the ways He can’t? How are we at loving our neighbors? Great. What about the marginalized ones? The ones who scare us a bit? The Sinners? How about the poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee? (Whoops! Sorry! Too far! Refugees are probably terrorists trying to steal jobs.) Tell me again why we have to be Republican if we want to love Jesus? Exactly what does a conservative leader have to do to overstep that support? Is there a point past which I can decide to vote for somebody else without being immediately suspected as a Jesus-hating Liberal with and Agenda? What is with the amorphous, capital-A Agenda, anyway?

How do we handle people with different theology? Why do we go all cancel-culture on people with theological differences—particularly the ones we label Heretics and Wolves? Why do we insist on inerrancy in people and freak the hell out when they get it wrong by our reckoning? There’s one Person who is without error, and to get mad when another human isn’t Him is kinda weird and idolatrous. Assuming that we are without error (and thus in a place to call it out in Them) is likewise putting ourselves in a place that rightly belongs solely to the Lord.

And while we’re talking idolatry, why do we treat sexual sin as a way bigger deal than idolatry when the two are next-door neighbors on the list of things that prevent the inheritance of the kingdom of God? Why did we believe for so long it was okay to own other people (we found scriptural justification!) or keep them out of “our” bathrooms or prevent multi-colored marriages? What are we doing to dismantle the systems that still give white people a giant head start at the expense of the rest? Why, when believers all have the same Spirit of God in them, do we wind up with such divergent theology on so many things? SO MANY QUESTIONS.

These sound sort of dangerous and deconstructionish, right?

Instead of taking things for granted, I’m taking them apart, looking at the pieces, holding them up to my Father, and asking Him how they’re supposed to fit.

So far, my theology remains largely the same, though my politics have changed a little (lot). Importantly, I come at all of it with a lot less self-assurance—again, only one Person is inerrant. I am not Him. But I do trust Him.

The house stands.

But I am realizing I built it on a lot of things other humans told me, interpreting the Word the way I was instructed. It’s not bad—these humans pointed me to God­—but it’s not what I should have built a house on. So I live in the house while the foundation crumbles beneath it—not to destroy the house, but to improve it. It’s loud and unpleasant and a crap-ton of work I can’t hire out, but the house will be much stronger, safer, and better. And I’m not doing it by myself. I have a Guide and He actually knows what He’s doing (unlike me) and He’s given me a manual of sorts—it’s a little less step-by-step than the directions for assembling those particle-board cabinets and bookshelves I can buy for a few ten-dollar bills, but then life is more complex than those are—and His Spirit helps me figure out exactly how to read and apply it, and what to do when the instructions don’t address my specific scenario.

YOU’RE THE WORST—guest post at Kindred Mom

Hey, friends! That time again—my essay is up on the Kindred Mom site. You can go there to read the whole thing or read on for a bit of it.

She was standing in her partly-open doorway, leaning slightly forward at the waist, fists balled, arms locked and sticking out a bit behind her, yelling.


Her mouth was open wider than I thought possible and spittle was flying forth as she raged at top volume.

It was so cartoonish I actually laughed out loud. (I’ll let you imagine how that might have gone over.) This was only last Tuesday, but I honestly don’t remember what I did about it. I’m sure I did something.

The whole scene is swallowed in the hilarity of her Shrek-like anger. Is this good parenting? I have no idea. If someone had described this situation to me just a few years ago, I would have had two thoughts: first, I think I’d die if my child said something so hurtful to me, and second, that’s SO disrespectful! My child will NEVER do that. Or if she does, she won’t do it twice. 

News flash, Younger Robin: you won’t die and yes, she will do it twice or really a lot more. Actually, both my big girls have told me they hate me and I’m “the worst,” and the smaller two picked up on it and started mimicking, so I’ve now been “hated” by a three-year-old. And of course I address disrespectful and hurtful comments, but addressing it any one of dozens of ways won’t necessarily make it stop

Click here for the rest.

finding anticipation

“I really miss having things to look forward to.”

I was chatting with a friend this morning about the little stuff we miss. I’m beginning to realize how much I need to have things on the horizon. Maybe a trip next winter or even just a trip to Anchorage with Andrew that doesn’t get cancelled. My friend Lindsey calls it the spiritual discipline of anticipation, and I’m missing it. Big time.

My hands smell amazing. I bought fresh basil weeks ago for the best-ever tomato soup and (as usual) didn’t use the whole package, so I cut the bottoms of the leftover stems and put them in a cup like flowers and, while I cannot keep regular plants alive for anything, I can apparently keep basil clippings on my windowsil above my sink until they bloom. I touched the cup to move it earlier and now, hours later, I keep getting a whiff of amazing.

Today on the way home from an appointment to meet strangers (that I forgot about and thus I arrived late and stressed out), I noticed just the faintest haze of yellow on the hill: Green Day. It’s possibly my favorite day of the year: the birch and aspen all decide in unison to start sprouting leaves. It’s just a kiss of yellow today, but by this time next week, the whole hill will be green. Last week I said I was feeling uninspired to take photos because breakup in Alaska is exciting, but not especially lovely. We’re just on the edge of spring overtaking breakup and I can feel the excitement.

We’re also sort of emerging out of quarantine. I went to Lowe’s just now and less than half the people were wearing masks. Mandates are starting to relax here and everybody seems to be taking Alaska’s “strong suggestions” a little less seriously. The mathematician in me is screaming “Nooooooooo!” But the part of me that has been cooped up with my kids for the last million years with no place to go? That part is all about it.

When I talked about having nothing to look forward to this morning, I forgot about these little (big) things: blooming basil, leaves on trees, seeing humans who don’t share my last name. I forgot about the tiny bits that don’t require me leaving for somewhere novel. Can I just enjoy the bursting forth of new life that feels so right as we continue through Eastertide and look forward to all it brings?

The spiritual discipline of anticipation continues, though my formal plans vanished. What are you looking forward to?

a look back at April

Well, April is over. I can’t say I’m mad about it.

As with last month, I’m borrowing Emily Freeman‘s questions to look backwards, because it’s time to put out a post and I don’t have much else. And, again, I’m rearranging it so it ends on something fun. (I read On Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, who, btw, is a favorite, and he talked about how a person’s perception of a period of pain is basically the average of the maximum pain of the episode and the pain level at the end. I’ve experienced this and now apply it to basically everything. So we will end with light.)

What do I miss?

I miss taking pictures. Weird, right? But a few things have come together to make it difficult. First, breakup is ugly. A lot of dirty snow piles and last year’s dead vegetation. I am uninspired. Second, and probably more influential, my husband has been stealing my camera to video music and sermons for church, since video is suddenly an essential part of church services. So I frequently don’t know where my camera is, and when I do have it, the card comes helpfully preloaded with a ton of video and my settings are all screwy. The digital settings are fine—we have separate user profiles on the camera, so it goes back to manual everything—but the number of physical switches on the body of the camera that come back to me all kinds of wrong makes “taking a quick picture” impossible. I might be mild-to-moderately grouchy about it. Not at him, really—he’s got a job to do—but just at the situation that has everything, even this, all wrong.

What does peace look like in May?

Better self-care.

Andrew went back to work this week, so for the first time since mid-March, I’m home between 9ish and 6:30ish (and occasionally later) every day with some children I can’t take anywhere. I absolutely have to prioritize exercise so I stay sane, and I asked him last night for a night out of the house (probably library parking lot) and a night that he and I actually do something together (like watch a movie or something) every week.

What was the funniest thing that happened in April?

I don’t know about funniest, but this happened yesterday, so I remember it, and I did laugh pretty hard.

I got a text from Andrew: “Looks like maybe you had a couple kindle books that went on my work card a week and a half back…? History of Printing and Forgetting the Past?”

None of this rings any bells. I’m pretty judicious about my Kindle purchases and very careful not to use his work card on anything, and I tell him so. I check in with my sister who has, on occasion, used our account. Seemed like a long shot, but I couldn’t imagine anything else.

Then I get another text: “Looks like Brian has been buying books on my kindle… at least I’m guessing it was him since my device was renamed ‘BRIANLOVESANDREW‘”

Y’all, I died. I have no idea how the boy renamed his device, but whenever he writes anything (or, often as not, uses the alpha keys on my trusty TI-83 from 1997) he uses our first names:


We will be keeping closer tabs on the Andrew’s kindle going forward.

How are you going into May?